E-text prepared by MRK
E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
I. THE SERMON THAT WAS NEVER PREACHED II. A STRANGE BETROTHAL III. THE MAN WHO WAS IN A HURRY IV. EXIT MR. DOUGLAS GUEST V. HOW THE ADDRESS WAS LOST VI. THE YOUNG MAN FROM THE COUNTRY HEARS SOME VII. A NIGHT IN HELL—AND NEXT DAY VIII. THE AUTHOR OF "NO MAN'S LAND" IX. THE EDITOR OF THE "IBEX" RECEIVES A STRANGE LETTER X. A WOMAN OF WHIMS XI. DOUGLAS GUEST GETS HIS "CHANCE" XII. THE MAN WHO NEARLY WENT UNDER XIII. THE FIRST TASTE OF FAME XIV. A VISITOR FROM SCOTLAND YARD XV. EMILY DE REUSS TELLS A LIE XVI. JOAN STRONG, AVENGER XVII. A PLAIN QUESTION AND A WARNING XVIII. THE TASTE OF THE LOTUS XIX. A MAN WITHOUT A PAST XX. CICELY ASKS A QUESTION XXI. THE REBELLION OF DREXLEY XXII. DREXLEY SPEAKS OUT XXIII. CICELY S SECRET XXIV. THE COUNTESS, THE COUSIN, AND THE CRITIC XXV. A TRAGIC INTERRUPTION XXVI. A VISITOR FOR DOUGLAS JESSON XXVII. FELLOW-CRIMINALS XXVIII. THE LITTLE FIGURE IN BLACK XXIX. JOAN STRONG FINDS HER BROTHER XXX. DAVID AND JOAN XXXI. DREXLEY FORESEES DANGER XXXII. A SUPPER AT THE "MILAN," AND A MEETING XXXIII. A MISUNDERSTANDING XXXIV. THE WOOING OF CICELY XXXV. THE NET OF JOAN'S VENGEANCE XXXVI. A SCENE AT THE CLUB XXXVII. CICELY MAKES HER CHOICE XXXVIII. "SHE WAS A WOMAN: I WAS A COWARD" XXXIX. A JOURNEY AND A WEDDING XL. A CALL BEFORE THE CURTAIN
THE SERMON THAT WAS NEVER PREACHED
A little party of men and women on bicycles were pushing their machines up the steep ascent which formed the one street of Feldwick village. It was a Sunday morning, and the place was curiously empty. Their little scraps of gay conversation and laughter—they were men and women of the smart world—seemed to strike almost a pagan note in a deep Sabbatical stillness. They passed the wide open doors of a red brick chapel, and several of the worshippers within turned their heads. As the last two of the party went by, the wheezings of a harmonium ceased, and a man's voice came travelling out to them. The lady rested her hand upon her host's arm. "Listen," she whispered.
Her host, Lord of the Manor, Lord Lieutenant of the County, and tenth Earl of Cumberland, paused readily enough and leaned his machine against a kerbstone. Bicycling was by no means a favourite pursuit of his, and the morning for the time of year was warm.
"Dear lady," he murmured, "shall we go a little nearer and listen to the words of grace? Anything for a short rest."
She leaned her own bicycle against the wall. From where she was she could catch a sideway glimpse of a tall, slight figure standing up before the handful of people.
"I should like to go inside," she said, indifferently. "Would they think it an intrusion?"
"Certainly not," he answered, with visions of a chair before him. "As a matter of fact, I have a special invitation to become a member of that flock—temporarily, at any rate."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"The land here" he answered, "is not entailed, and they are very anxious to buy this little bit and own their chapel. I had a letter from a worthy farmer and elder, Gideon Strong, on the matter yesterday. He wound up by expressing a wish that I might join them in their service one morning. This is their service, and here we are. Come!"
They crossed the street, and, to the obvious amazement of the little congregation, stood in the doorway. A gaunt shepherd, with weather-marked face and knotted fingers, handed them clumsily a couple of chairs. Some of the small farmers rose and made a clumsy obeisance to their temporal lord. Gideon Strong, six feet four, with great unbent shoulders, and face as hard and rugged as iron, frowned them down, and showed no signs of noticing his presence. Elsewhere he would have been one of the first, proud man though he was, to stand bareheaded before the owner of his farm and half a county, but in the house of God, humble little building though it was, he reckoned all men equal.
Praying silently before them, on the eve of his first sermon, a young man was kneeling. He had seen nothing of these newcomers, but of a sudden as he knelt there, his thoughts and sensations in strange confusion, himself half in revolt against what lay before him, there floated up the little aisle an exquisite perfume of crushed violets, and he heard the soft rustling of a gown which was surely worn by none of those who were gathered together to listen to him. He opened his eyes involuntarily, and met the steady gaze of the lady whose whim it had been to enter the place.
He had never seen her before, nor any one like her. Yet he felt that, in her presence, the task which lay before him had become immeasurably more difficult. She was a type to him of all those things, the memory of which he had been strenuously trying to put away from him, the beautiful, the worldly, the joyous. As he rose slowly to his feet, he looked half despairingly around. It was a stern religion which they loved, this handful of weatherbeaten farmers and their underlings. Their womenkind were made as unlovely as possible, with flat hair, sombre and ill-made clothes. Their surroundings were whitewashed and text-hung walls, and in their hearts was the love for narrow ways. He gave out his text slowly and with heavy heart. Then he paused, and, glancing once more round the little building, met again the soft, languid fire of those full dark eyes. This time he did not look away. He saw a faint interest, a slight pity, a background of nonchalance. His cheeks flushed, and the fire of revolt leaped through his veins. He shut up the Bible and abandoned his carefully prepared discourse, in which was a mention of hellfire and many gloomy warnings, which would have brought joy to the heart of Gideon Strong, and to each of which he would slowly and approvingly have nodded his head. He delivered instead, with many pauses, but in picturesque and even vivid language, a long and close account of the miracle with which his text was concerned. In the midst of it there came from outside the tinkling of many bicycle bells—the rest of the party had returned in search of their host and his companion. The Earl looked up with alacrity. He was nicely rested now, and wanted a cigarette.
"Shall we go?" he whispered.
She nodded and rose. At the door she turned for a moment and looked backwards. The preacher was in the midst of an elaborate and painstaking sifting of evidence as to the season of the year during which this particular miracle might be supposed to have taken place. Again their eyes met for a moment, and she went out into the sunlight with a faint smile upon her lips, for she was a woman who loved to feel herself an influence, and she was swift to understand. To her it was an episode of the morning's ride, almost forgotten at dinner-time. To him it marked the boundary line between the old things and the new.
A STRANGE BETROTHAL
The room had all the chilly discomfort of the farmhouse parlour, unused, save on state occasions—a funereal gloom which no sunlight could pierce, a mustiness which savoured almost of the grave. One by one they obeyed the stern forefinger of Gideon Strong, and took their seats on comfortless chairs and the horse-hair sofa. First came John Magee, factor and agent to the Earl of Cumberland, a great man in the district, deacon of the chapel, slow and ponderous in his movements. A man of few words but much piety. After him, with some hesitation as became his lowlier station, came William Bull, six days in the week his master's shepherd and faithful servant, but on the seventh an elder of the chapel, a person of consequence and dignity. Then followed Joan and Cicely Strong together, sisters in the flesh, but as far apart in kin and the spirit as the poles of humanity themselves. And lastly, Douglas Guest. At the head of his shining mahogany table, with a huge Bible before him on which rested the knuckle of one clenched hand, stood Gideon Strong, the master of Feldwick Hall Farm. It was at his bidding that these people had come together; they waited now for him to speak. His was no common personality. Neat in his dress, precise though local, with a curious mixture of dialects in his speech, he was feared by every man in Feldwick, whether he stood over them labouring or prayed amongst them in the little chapel, where every Sunday he took the principal place. He was well set-up for all his unusual height and seventy years, with a face as hard as the ancient rocks which jutted from the Cumberland hillside, eyes as keen and grey and merciless as though every scrap of humanity which might ever have lain behind them had long since died out. Just he reckoned himself and just he may have been, but neither man nor woman nor child had ever heard a kindly word fall from his lips. Children ran indoors as he passed, women ceased their gossiping, men slunk away from a friendly talk as though ashamed. If ever at harvest or Christmas time the spirit of good fellowship warmed the hearts of these country folk and loosened their tongues the grim presence of Gideon Strong was sufficient to check their merriment and send them silently apart. He had been known to pray that sinners might meet with the punishment they deserved, both in this world and hereafter. Such was Gideon Strong.
He cleared his throat and spoke, addressing the young man who sat on the corner of the horse-hair sofa, where the shadows of the room were darkest.
"Nephew Douglas," he said, "to-day you ha' come to man's estate, and I ha' summoned those here who will have to do wi' your future to hear these few words. The charge of you left on my shoulders by your shiftless parents has been a heavy one, but to-day I am quit of it. The deacons of Feldwick chapel have agreed to appoint you their pastor, provided only that they be satisfied wi' your discourse on the coming Sabbath. See to it, lad, that 'ee preach the word as these good men and mysen have ever heard it. Let there be no new-fangled ideas in thy teachings, and be not vain of thy learning, for therein is vanity and trouble. Dost understand?" "I understand," the young man answered slowly, and without enthusiasm.
"Learning and godliness are little akin," said John Magee, in his thin treble. "See to it, lad, that thou choosest the one which is of most account."
"Ay, ay," echoed the shepherd thickly. "Ay, ay!" Douglas Guest answered nothing. A sudden light had flashed in his dark eyes, and his lips had parted. But almost at the same moment Gideon Strong stretched out his hand.
"Nephew Douglas," he said. "I am becoming an old man, and to-day I will release myself from the burden of your affairs once and for all. This is the woman, my daughter Joan, whom I have chosen to wife for thee. Take her hand and let thy word be pledged to her."
If silence still reigned in that gloomy apartment, it was because there were those present whom surprise had deprived of speech. The very image of her father, Joan looked steadily into her cousin's face without tremor or nervousness. Her features were shapely enough, but too large and severe for a woman, her wealth of black hair was brushed fiat back from her forehead in uncompromising ugliness. Her figure was as straight as a dart, but without lines or curves, her gown, of homely stuff and ill-made, completed her unattractiveness. There was neither blush nor tremor, nor any sign of softening in her cold eyes. Then Douglas, in whom were already sown the seeds of a passionate discontent with the narrowing lines of his unlovely life, who on the hillside and in the sweet night solitudes had taken Shelley to his heart, had lived with Keats and had felt his pulses beat thickly to the passionate love music of Tennyson, stood silent and unresponsive. Child of charity he might be, but the burden of his servitude was fast growing too heavy for him. So he stood there whilst the old man's eyes flashed like steel, and Joan's face, in her silent anger, seemed to grow into the likeness of her father's.
"Dost hear, nephew Douglas? Take her hands in thine and thank thy God who has sent thee, a pauper and a youth of ill-parentage, a daughter of mine for wife."
Then the young man found words, though they sounded to him and to the others faint and unimpressive.
"Uncle," he said, "there has been no word of this nor any thought of it between Joan and myself. I am not old enough to marry nor have I the inclination."
Terrible was the look flashed down upon him from those relentless eyes-fierce, too, the words of his reply, measured and slow although they were.
"There is no need for words between thee and Joan. Choose between my bidding and the outside o' my doors this night and for ever."
Even then he might have won his freedom like a man. But the old dread was too deeply engrafted. The chains of servitude which he and the whole neighbourhood wore were too heavy to be thrown lightly aside. So he held out his hand, and Joan's fingers, passive and cold, lay for a moment in his. The old man watched without any outward sign of satisfaction.
"Thou ha' chosen well, nephew Douglas," he said, with marvellous but quite unconscious irony. "I reckon, too, that we ha' chosen well to elect you our pastor. Thou wilt have two pounds a week and Bailiff Morrison's cottage. Neighbour Magee, there is a sup o' ale and some tea in the kitchen."
John Magee and William Bull betrayed the first signs of real interest they had exhibited in the proceedings. One by one they all filed out of the room save Douglas Guest and Joan. Cicely had flitted away with the first. They two were alone. He wondered, with a grim sense of the humour of the thing, whether she was expecting any love-making to follow upon so strange an engagement. He looked curiously at her. There was no change in her face nor any sign of softening.
"I hope you will believe, Joan," he said, taking up a book and looking for his place, "that I knew nothing of this, and that I am not in any way responsible for it."
Her face seemed to darken as she rose and moved towards the door.
"I am sure of that," she said, stiffly. "I do not blame you."
* * * * *
Up into the purer, finer air of the hills-up with a lightening heart, though still carrying a bitter burden of despondency. Night rested upon the hilltops and brooded in the valleys. Below, the shadowy landscape lay like blurred patchwork-still he climbed upwards till Feldwick lay silent and sleeping at his feet and a flavour of the sea mingled with the night wind which cooled his cheeks. Then Douglas Guest threw himself breathless amongst the bracken and gazed with eager eyes downwards.
"If she should not come," he murmured. "I must speak to some one or I shall go mad."
Deeper fell the darkness, until the shape of the houses below was lost, and only the lights were visible. Such a tiny little circle they seemed. He watched them with swelling heart. Was this to be the end of his dreams, then? Bailiff Morrison's cottage, two pounds a week, and Joan for his wife? He, who had dreamed of fame, of travel in distant countries, of passing some day into the elect of those who had written their names large in the book of life. His heart swelled in passionate revolt. Even though he might be a pauper, though he owed his learning and the very clothes in which he stood to Gideon Strong, had any man the right to demand so huge a sacrifice? He had spoken his mind and his wishes only to be crushed with cold contempt. To-day his answer had been given. What was it that Gideon Strong had said? "I have fed you and clothed you and taught you; I have kept you from beggary and made you what you are. Now, as my right, I claim your future. Thus and thus shall it be. I have spoken."
He walked restlessly to and fro upon the windy hilltop. A sense of freedom possessed him always upon these heights. The shackles of Gideon Strong fell away. Food and clothing and education, these were great things to owe, but life was surely a greater, and life he owed to no man living—only to God. Was it a thing which he dared misuse?—fritter helplessly away in this time-forgotten corner of the earth? Life surely was a precious loan to be held in trust, to be made as full and deep and fruitful a thing as a man's energy and talent could make it. To Gideon Strong he owed much, but it was a debt which surely could be paid in other ways than this.
He stopped short. A light footstep close at hand startled, then thrilled him. It was Cicely—hatless, breathless with the climb, and very fair to see in the faint half-lights. For Cicely, though she was Gideon Strong's daughter, was not of Feldwick or Feldwick ways, nor were her gowns simple, though they were fashioned by a village dressmaker. She had lived all her life with distant relatives near London. Douglas had never seen her till two months ago, and her coming had been a curious break in the life at the farm.
He moved quickly to meet her. For a moment their hands met. Then she drew away.
"How good of you, Cicely," he cried. "I felt that I must talk to some one or go mad."
She stood for a moment recovering her breath—her bosom rising and falling quickly under her dark gown, a pink flush in her cheeks. Her hair, fair and inclined to curliness, had escaped bounds a little, and she brushed it impatiently back.
"I must only stay for a moment, Douglas," she said, gravely. "Let us go down the hill by the Beacon. We shall be on the way home."
They walked side by side in silence. Neither of them were wholly at their ease. A new element had entered into their intercourse. The wonderfully free spirit of comradeship which had sprung up between them since her coming, and which had been so sweet a thing to him, was for the moment, at least, interrupted.
"I want you to tell me, Douglas," she said at last, "exactly how much of a surprise to-day has been to you."
"It is easily done," he answered. "Last night I went to your father. I tried to thank him as well as I was able for all that he has done for me. I then told him that with every respect for his wishes I did not feel myself prepared at present to enter the ministry. I showed him my diplomas and told him of my degrees. I told him what I wished—to become a schoolmaster, for a year or two, at any rate. Well, he listened to me in fixed silence. When I had finished he asked, 'Is that all?' I said, 'Yes,' and he turned his back upon me. 'Your future is already provided for, Douglas,' he said. 'I will speak to you of it to-morrow.' Then he walked away. That is all the warning I had."
"And what about Joan?"
His face flushed hotly.
"No word from him, nor any hint of such a thing has ever made me think of Joan in such a connection. I should have been less surprised if the ceiling had fallen in upon us."
She looked at him and nodded gravely.
"Well," she said, "our oracle has spoken. What are you going to do?"
"I am going to ask for your advice first," he said.
"Then you must tell me just how you feel," she said.
He drew a long breath.
"There are so many things," he said, speaking softly and half to himself. "Last week, Cicely, I took a compass and a stick and I walked across the hills to Rydal Mount, where Wordsworth lived. When I came back I think that I was quite content to spend all my days here. It is such a beautiful world. Some day when you have lived here longer, you will know what I mean—the bondage will fall upon you, too. The mountains with their tops hidden in soft blue mist, the winds blowing across the waste places, the wild flowers springing up in unexpected corners, the little streams tearing down the hillside to flow smoothly like a belt of beautiful ribbon through the pasture land below. The love which comes for these things, Cicely, is a strange, haunting thing. You cannot escape from it. It is a sort of bondage. The winds seem to tune themselves to your thoughts, the sunlight laughs away your depression. Listen! Do you hear the sheep-bells from behind the hill there? Isn't that music? Then the twilight and the darkness! If you are on the hilltop they seem to steal down like a world of soothing shadows. Everything that is dreary and sad seems to die away; everywhere is a beautiful effortless peace. Cicely, I came back from that tramp and I felt content with my lot, content to live amongst these country folk, speak to them simply once a week of the God of mysteries, and spend my days wandering about this little corner of the world beautiful."
"Men have lived such lives," she said quietly, "and found happiness."
"Ay, but there is the other side," he continued, quickly. "Sometimes it seems as though the love for these things is a beautiful delusion, a maddening, unreal thing. Then I know that my God is not their God, that my thoughts would be heresy to them. I feel that I want to cast off the strange passionate love for the place which holds me here, to go out into the world and hold my place amongst my fellows. Cicely, surely where men do great works, where men live and die, that is the proper place for man? I have no right to fritter away a life in the sensuous delight of moving amongst beautiful places. I want to come into touch with my kind, to feel the pulse of humanity, to drink the whole cup of life with its joys and sorrows. Contemplation should be the end of life—its evening, not its morning."
"Douglas," she cried, "you are right. You know that you have power. Out into the world and use it! Oh, if I were you, if I were a man, I would not hesitate for a moment."
His hand fell upon her shoulder. He pointed downwards.
"How far am I bound," he asked hoarsely, "to do your father's bidding?"
The glow passed from her cheeks. She moved imperceptibly away from him.
"Douglas," she said, "it is of that I came to speak to you to-night. You know that I have a brother who is eternally banished from home, whose life I honestly believe my father's severity has ruined. I saw him in London not long ago, and he sent a message to you. It is very painful for me to even think of it, Douglas, for I always believed my father to be a just man. He has let you believe that you were a pauper. My brother told me that it was not true—that there was plenty of money for your education, and that there should be some to come to you. There, I have told you! You must go to my father and ask him for the truth!"
He was silent for a moment. It was a strange thing to hear.
"If this is true," he said, "it is freedom."
"Freedom," she repeated, and glided away from him whilst he stood there dreaming.
THE MAN WHO WAS IN A HURRY
He lay back in a corner seat of the carriage, panting, white-faced, exhausted. His clumsy boots, studded with nails, were wet, and his frayed black trousers were splashed with mud. In his eyes was the light of vivid fear, his delicate mouth was twitching still with excitement. In his ears there rang yet the angry cry of the guard, the shouting of porters, the excitement of that leap through the hastily-opened carriage door tingled yet in his veins. Before his eyes there was a mist. He was conscious indeed that the carriage which he had marked out as being empty was tenanted by a single person, but he had not even glanced across towards the occupied seat. What mattered it so long as they were off? Already the fields seemed flying past the window, and the telegraph posts had commenced their frantic race. Ten, twenty, forty miles an hour at least-off on that wonderful run, the pride of the directors and the despair of rival companies. Nothing could stop them now. All slower traffic stood aside to let them pass, the express with her two great engines vomiting fire and smoke, crawling across the map, flying across bridges and through tunnels from the heart of the country to the great city. Gradually, and with the exhilaration of their ever increasing speed, the courage of the man revived, and the blood flowed once more warmly through his veins. He lifted his head and looked around him.
Shock the first came when he realised that he was in a first-class carriage; shock the second, when he saw that his solitary companion was a lady. He took in the details of her appearance and surroundings—wonderful enough to him who had been brought up in a cottage, and to whom the ways and resources of luxury were all unknown. Every seat save the one which he occupied was covered with her belongings. On one was a half-opened dressing-case filled with gold-topped bottles and emitting a faint, delicate perfume. On another was a pile of books and magazines, opposite to him a sable-lined coat, by his side a luncheon basket and long hunting flask. Then his eyes were caught by an oblong strip of paper pasted across the carriage window—he read it backwards—"Engaged." What an intrusion! He looked towards the woman with stammering words of apology upon his lips—but the words died away. He was tongue-tied.
He had met the languid gaze of her dark, full eyes, a little supercilious, a little amused, faintly curious, and his own fell at once before their calm insolence. She was handsomely dressed. The delicate, white hand which held her novel was ablaze with many and wonderful rings. She was evidently tall, without doubt stately. Her black hair, parted in the middle, drooped a little to the side by her ears, her complexion, delightfully clear, was of a curious ivory pallor unassociated with ill-health. She regarded him through a pair of ivory-handled lorgnettes, which she carelessly closed as he looked towards her.
"Will you tell me," she asked quietly, "why you have entered my carriage which is engaged—and in such an extraordinary manner?"
He drew a little breath. He had never heard a voice like it before—soft, musical, and with the slightest suggestion of a foreign accent. Then he remembered that she was waiting for an answer. He began his apology.
"I am sorry—indeed I am very sorry. I had no time to look inside, and I thought it was an empty carriage—a third-class one, too. It was very stupid."
"You appeared to be" she remarked, "in a hurry."
The faint note of humour in her tone passed undetected by him.
"I wanted to get away," he said. "I had walked fourteen miles, and there was no other train. I am very sorry to intrude upon you. The train was moving when I reached the platform, and I jumped."
She shrugged her shoulders slightly and raised her book once more. But from over its top she found herself watching very soon this strange travelling companion of hers. The trousers above his clumsy boots were frayed and muddy, his black clothes were shiny and antiquated in cut—these, and his oddly-arranged white tie, somehow suggested the cleric. But when she reached his face her eyes lingered there. It puzzled and in a sense attracted her. His features were cleanly cut and prominent, his complexion was naturally pale, but wind and sun had combined to stain his cheeks with a slight healthy tan. His eyes were deep-set, keen and bright, the eyes of a visionary perhaps, but afire now with the instant excitement of living. A strange face for a man of his apparently humble origin. Whence had he come, and where was he going? The vision of his face as he had leaped into the carriage floated again before her eyes. Surely behind him were evil things, before him—what? She took up her novel again, but laid it down almost immediately. "You are going" she asked, "to London?"
"To London," he repeated dreamily. "Yes."
"But your luggage—was that left behind?"
"I have no luggage," he said. "You are going up for the day only?" she hazarded.
He shook his head. There was a note of triumph almost in his tone.
"I am going for good," he said. "If wishes count for anything I shall never set foot within this county again."
There was a story, she felt sure, connected with this strange fellow-passenger of hers. She watched him thoughtfully. A human document such as this was worth many novels. It was not the first time that he had excited her interest.
"London" she said, "is a wonderful place for young men."
He turned a rapt face towards her. The fire seemed leaping out of his eyes.
"Others have found it so," he said. "I go to prove their words."
"You are a stranger there, then?"
"I have never been further south than this in my life," he replied. "I know only the London of De Quincey and Lamb-London with the halo of romance around it."
She sighed gently.
"You will find it all so different," she said. "You will be bitterly disappointed."
He set his lips firmly together.
"I have no fear," he said. "I shall find it possible to live there, at any rate. If I stayed where I was, I must have gone mad."
"You are going to friends?" she asked.
He laughed softly.
"I have not a friend in the world," he said. "In London I do not know a soul. What matter? There is life to be lived there, prizes to be won. There is room for every one."
She half closed her eyes, watching him keenly all the time with an interest which was certainly not diminished.
"London is a wonderful city," she said, "but she is not always kind to the stranger. You have spoken of De Quincey who wove fairy fancies about her, and Lamb, who was an affectionate stay-at-home, a born dweller in cities. They were dreamers both, these men. What about Chatterton?"
"An unhappy exception," he said. "If only he had lived a few months longer his sorrows would have been over."
"To-day," she said, "there are many Chattertons who must die before the world will listen to them. Are you going to take your place amongst them?"
He smiled confidently.
"Not I," he answered. "I shall work with my hands if men will have none of my brains. Indeed," he continued, turning towards her with a swift, transfiguring smile, "I am not a village prodigy going to London with a pocketful of manuscripts. Don't think that of me. I am going to London because I have been stifled and choked—I want room to breathe, to see men and women who live. Oh, you don't know the sort of place I have come from—the brain poison of it, the hideous sameness and narrowness of it all."
"Tell me a little," she said, "and why at last you made up your mind to leave. It is not so long, you know, since I saw you in somewhat different guise."
A quick shiver seemed to pass through him; underneath his tanned skin he was paler, and the blood in his veins was cold. His eyes, fixed upon the flying landscape, were set in a fixed, unseeing stare—surely the fields were peopled with evil memories, and faces in the trees were mocking him. So he remained for several moments as though in the grip of a nightmare, and the lady watched him. There was a little tragedy, then, behind.
"There was a man once," he said, "who drew a line through his life, and said to himself that everything behind it concerned some other person—not him. So with me. Such memories as I have, I shall strangle. To-day I commence a new life."
"One's past" she said, "is not always so easily to be disposed of. There are ghosts which will haunt us, and sometimes the ghosts are living figures."
"Let them come to me," he murmured, "and my fingers shall be upon their throats. I want no such legacies."
She shook her head slowly.
"Ghosts" she said, with a faint smile, "are sometimes very difficult people to deal with."
EXIT MR. DOUGLAS GUEST
Through the heart of England the express tore on—through town and country, underneath the earth and across high bridges. All the while the man and the woman talked. To him she was a revelation. Every moment of his life had been spent in a humdrum seclusion—every moment of hers seemed to have been lived out to its limit in those worlds of which he had barely even dreamed. She was older than he had thought her—thirty, perhaps, or thirty-one—and her speech and gestures every now and then had a foreign flavour. She talked to him of countries which he had scarcely dared hope to visit, and of men and women whose names were as household words. She spoke of them with an ease and familiarity which betokened close acquaintance—talking to him with a mixture of kindness and reserve as if he were some strange creature who had had the good fortune to interest her for the moment, but from whom at any time she might draw aloof. Every word she spoke he hung upon. He had come out into the world to seek for adventures—not, indeed, in the spirit of the modern Don Quixote, tingling only for new sensations to stimulate; but with the more robust and breezy spirit of his ancestors, seeking for a fuller life and a healthy excitement, even at the cost of hard blows and many privations. Surely this was an auspicious start—an adventure this indeed! During a momentary silence she looked across at him with genuine curiosity, her eyes half closed, her brows knitted. What enthusiasm! She was not a vain woman, and she knew that her personality had little, if anything, to do with the flush upon his cheeks and the bright light in his eyes. She herself, a much travelled, a learned, a brilliant, even a famous woman, had become only lately conscious of a certain jaded weariness in her outlook upon life. Even the best had begun to pall, the sameness of it had commenced its fatal work. More than once lately a touch of that heart languor, which is the fruit of surfeit, had startled her by its numbing and depressing effect. Here at last was a new type—a man with clean pages before him—young, emotional, without a doubt intellectual. But for his awful clothes he was well enough to look upon, he had no affectations, his instincts were apparently correct. His manners were hoydenish, but there was nothing of the clown about him. She asked him a direct question concerning himself.
"Tell me," she said, "what you really are. A worker, a student—or have you a trade?"
He flushed up to his brows.
"I was brought up" he said, in a low tone, "for the ministry. It was no choice of mine. I had an uncle and guardian who ruled our household as he ruled everybody and everything with which he came in contact."
She was puzzled. To her the word sounded political.
"Yes. You remember when you first saw me? It was my first appearance. I was to have been chosen pastor of that church."
She looked at him now with something like amazement. This, then, accounted for the sombreness of his clothes and his little strip of white tie. She had only the vaguest ideas as to the conduct of those various sects to be met with in English villages, but she had certainly believed that the post of preacher was filled indifferently by any member of the congregation, and she had looked upon his presence in the pulpit on that last Sunday as an accident. To associate him with such an occupation permanently seemed to her little short of the ridiculous. She laughed softly, showing, for the first time, her brilliantly white teeth, and his cheeks were stained with scarlet.
"I do not know why you laugh," he said, with a note of fierceness in his tone. "It is the part of my life which is behind me. I was brought up to it, and traditions are hard to break away from. I have been obliged to live in a little village, to constrain my life between the narrowest limits, to watch ignorance, and suffer prejudices as deeply rooted as the hills. But all the same, it is nothing to laugh at. The thing itself is great and good enough—it is the people who are so hopeless. No, there is nothing to laugh at," he cried, with a sudden little burst of excitement, "but may God help the children whose eyes He has opened and who yet have to pass their lives on the smallest treadmill of the world."
"You" she whispered, "have escaped."
"I have escaped," he murmured, with a sudden pallor, "but not scatheless."
There was a silence between them then. She recognised that she had made a mistake in questioning him about a past which he had already declared hateful. The terror of an hour or more ago was in his face again. He was back amongst the shadows whence she had beckoned him. She yawned and took up her book.
They stopped at a great station, but the man was in a brown study and scarcely moved his head. An angry guard came hurrying up to the window, but a few words from the lady and a stealthily opened purse worked wonders. They were left undisturbed, and the train glided off. She laid down her book and spoke again.
"Do you mind passing me my luncheon basket?" she said, "and opening that flask of wine? Are you not hungry, too?"
He shook his head, but when he came to think of it he knew that he was ravenous. She passed him sandwiches as a matter of course—such sandwiches as he had never eaten before—and wine which was strange to him and which ran through his veins like warm magic. Once more the load of evil memories seemed to pass away from him. He was not so much at ease eating and drinking with her, but she easily acquired her former hold upon him. She herself, whose appetite was assumed, watched him, and wondered more and more.
Suddenly there came an interruption. The shrill whistling of the engine, the shutting off of steam, the violent application of the brake. The train came to a standstill. The man put down the window and looked out.
"What is it?" she asked, with admirable nonchalance, making no effort to leave her seat.
"I think that there has been an accident to some one," he said. "I will go and see."
"Come back and tell me," she said. "Myself I shall not look. I am not fond of horrors."
She took up her book, and he jumped down upon the line and made his way to where a little group of men were standing in a circle. Some one turned away with white face as he approached and stopped him.
"Don't look!—for God's sake, don't look!" he said. "It's too awful. It isn't fit. Fetch a tarpaulin, some one."
"Was he run over?" some one asked. "Threw himself from that carriage," the guard answered, moving his head towards a third-class compartment, of which the door stood open. "He was dragged half a mile, and—there isn't much left of him, poor devil," he added, with a little break in his speech.
"Does any one know who he was?" the young man asked.
"No one—nor where he got in."
The young man set his teeth and moved towards the carriage. His hand stole for a moment to his pocket, then he seemed to pick something up from the dusty floor.
"Here's a card," he said to the guard, "on the seat where he was."
The man took it and spelt the name out.
"Mr. Douglas Guest," he said. "Well, we shall know who he was, at any rate. It's lucky you found it, sir. Now we'll get on, if you please."
A tarpaulin-covered burden was carefully deposited in an empty carriage, and the little troop of people melted away. She looked up from her book as he entered.
"It was an accident, or a suicide," he said, gravely. "A man threw himself from an empty carriage in front and was run over. It was a horrible affair."
"Do they know who he was?" she asked.
"There was a card found near him," he answered. "Mr. Douglas Guest. That was his name."
Was it his fancy, or did she look at him for a moment more intently during the momentary silence which followed his speech? It must have been his fancy. Yet her next words puzzled him.
"You have not told me yet" she said, "your own name. I should like to know it."
He hesitated for a moment. His own name. A name to be kept—to live and die under—the hall mark of his new identity. How poor his imagination was. Never an inspiration, and she was watching him. There was so much in a name, and he must find one swiftly, for Mr. Douglas Guest was dead.
"My name is Jesson," he said—"Douglas Jesson."
HOW THE ADDRESS WAS LOST
And now the end of that journey, never altogether forgotten by either of them, was close at hand. Tunnels became more frequent, the green fields gave way to an interminable waste of houses, the gloom of the autumn afternoon was deepened. The speed of the train decreased, the heart of Douglas Jesson beat fast with anticipation. For now indeed he was near the end of his journey, the beginning of his new life. What matter that the outlook from where he sat was dreary enough. Beyond, there was a glow in the sky; beyond was an undiscovered world. He was young, and he came fresh to the fight. The woman who watched him wondered.
"Will you tell me," she said, "now that you are in London, what will you do? You have money perhaps, or will you work?"
"Money," he laughed, gaily at first, but with a chill shiver immediately afterwards. Yes, he had money. For the moment he had forgotten it.
"I have a small sum," he said, "just sufficient to last me until I begin to earn some."
"And you will earn money—how?"
"With my pen, I hope," he answered simply. "I have sent several stories to the Ibex. One they accepted, but it has not appeared yet."
"To make money by writing in London is very difficult they say," she remarked.
"Everything in life is difficult," he answered confidently. "I am prepared for disappointment at first. In the end I have no fears."
She handed him a card from her dressing-case.
"Will you come and see me?" she asked.
"Thank you," he answered hesitatingly. "I will come when I have made a start."
"I know a great many people who are literary, including the editor of the Ibex," she said. "I think if you came that I could help you."
He shook his head.
"The narrow way for me," he answered smiling. "I am very anxious for success, but I want to win it myself."
Her face was clouded.
"You are a foolish boy," she said. "Believe me that I am offering you the surest path to success. London is full of young men with talent, and most days they go hungry."
He stood up, and, though she was annoyed, the fire in his eyes was good to look upon.
"I must take my place with them," he said. "Whatever my destiny may be I shall find it."
The final tunnel, and they were gliding into the station alongside the platform. A tall footman threw open the door of the carriage, and a lady's maid, with a jewel case in her hand, stared at him with undisguised curiosity. The lady bade him goodbye kindly, yet with a note of final dismissal in her tone. He had occupied her time for an hour or two, and saved her from absolute boredom. The matter was ended there. Nevertheless, from a quiet corner of the station he watched her stand listlessly on the platform while her things were being collected—a tall, distinguished looking figure, and very noticeable amongst the motley crowd who were streaming from the train. Once he fancied that her eyes strayed along the way by which he had left. A moment later she was accosted by a man who had just driven into the station. She seemed to greet him without enthusiasm. He, on the other hand, was obviously welcoming her warmly. He too was tall, carefully dressed and well groomed, middle aged, a type, he supposed, of the men of her world. There was a few minutes' conversation, then they moved across the platform to the carriage, which was drawn up waiting. He handed her in, lingering hat in hand for a moment as though hoping for an invitation to follow her, which, however, did not come. The carriage drove off, passing the spot where Douglas had lingered, and it seemed to him that her eyes, gazing languidly out of the window, met his, and that she started forward in her seat as though to call to him. But the carriage received no summons to stop. It rolled out of the station and turned westwards. Douglas turned and followed it on foot.
* * * * *
He walked at first very much like a man in a dream, quite heedless as to direction, even without any fixed purpose before him. Here he was, arrived after all at the first stage in his new life. He was a free man, a living unit in this streaming horde of humanity. Of his old life, the most pleasant memory which survived was the loneliness of the hills and moorland high above his village home. Here he had spent whole nights with nothing but the wind and the stars and the distant sheep bells to keep him company. Here he had woven many dreams of this future which lay now actually within his grasp. He had stolen up the mountain path whilst the little village lay sleeping, and watched the shadows pass across the hills, and the darkness steal softly down upon the landscape stretched out like patchwork below. Then with the night and the absence of all human sounds had come that sweet and mystical sense of loneliness which had so often brought him peace at a time when the smallness of the day's events and the tyranny of his home life had filled him with bitterness. It was here that courage had come to him to plan out his emancipation, here that he had fed his brain with sweet but forbidden fruits. Something of that delicious loneliness was upon him now. He was a wanderer in a new world. What matter though the streets were squalid, and the men and women against whom he brushed were, for the most part, poorly dressed and ill looking? He was free. Even his identity was gone. Douglas Guest was dead, and with his past Douglas Jesson had nothing to do.
He wandered on, asking no questions, perfectly content. The great city expanded before him. Streets became wider, carriages were more frequent, the faces of the people grew more cheerful. He laughed softly to himself from sheer lightness of heart. From down a side street he came into the Strand, and here, for the first time, he noticed that he himself was attracting some attention. Then he remembered his clothes, shabby enough, but semi-clerical, and he walked boldly into a large ready-made clothing establishment, where everything was marked in plain figures, and where layfigures of gentlemen with waxy faces, attired in the height of fashion, were gazing blandly out into the world from behind a huge plate-glass window. He bought a plain blue serge suit, and begged leave to change in the "trying-on" room. Half an hour later he walked out again, with his own clothes done up in a bundle, feeling that his emancipation was now complete.
The lights of Waterloo Bridge attracted him, and he turned down before them. From one of the parapets he had his first view of the Thames. He leaned over, gazing with fascinated eyes at the ships below, dimly seen now through the gathering darkness, at the black waters in which flashed the reflection of the long row of lamps. The hugeness of the hotels on the Embankment, all afire with brilliant illuminations, almost took away his breath. Whilst he lingered there Big Ben boomed out the hour of six, and he realised with beating heart that those must be the Houses of Parliament across on the other side. A cold breeze came up and blew in his face, but he scarcely heeded it. It was the mother river which flowed beneath him—the greatest of the world's cities into which he had come, a wanderer, yet at heart one of her sons. Now at last he was in touch with his kind. Oh, what a welcome present—how gladly he realised that henceforth he must date his life from that day. He lifted his parcel cautiously to the ledge and waited for a moment. There was no one looking. Now was his time. He let it go, and heard the muffled splash as it fell upon the water. Not until it had slipped from his fingers and gone beyond recovery did he realise that the card which she had given him was carefully tucked away in the breast pocket of the coat. He knew neither her name nor where to look for her.
THE YOUNG MAN FROM THE COUNTRY HEARS SOME NEWS
"I say, mister."
Douglas started round, cramped with his long lingering against the stone wall. A girl was standing by his side. There were roses in her hat and a suspicion of powder upon her cheeks.
"Were you speaking to me?" he asked hesitatingly.
She laughed shortly.
"No one else within earshot that I know of," she answered. "I saw you throw that parcel over."
"I was just wishing," he remarked, "that I could get it back."
"Well, you are a mug to chuck it over and then want it back. I guess it's lost now, anyway, unless the river police find it—and that ain't likely, is it?"
"I should think not," he answered gravely. "Good evening." He would have moved away, but she stopped him. "Come, that's not good enough," she said, in a harder tone. "You ain't going to bluff me. What was in that parcel, eh?"
He looked at her in surprise.
"I don't quite see how it concerns you, anyway," he said, "but I don't know that I mind telling you that it contained a suit of clothes."
"What have you been up to?"
"I am afraid I don't understand you," he said.
"Oh, rot! People don't sneak their clothes over into the river for nothing. What are you going to stand me not to tell that bobby, eh?"
"I really don't care whether you do or not," he answered. "I had a reason for wanting to get rid of my clothes, but I am afraid you wouldn't understand it."
"Well, we'll try the bobby, then," she said. "There's a horrible murder this morning on the placards. How do I know that you're not the chap? It looks suspicious when you come out in a new suit of clothes and throw the old ones into the river. Anyway, the bobby would want to ask you a few questions about it."
"Well, you can try him, then," Douglas answered. "I'll wait here while you fetch him."
The girl laughed—it was not a pleasant sound.
"Where'd you be by the time I'd brought him, I'd like to know?" she remarked. "Never mind. I see you ain't likely to part with a lot. Stand us a drink, and I won't tell a soul."
"I would rather not, thanks," Douglas said. "I'll give you the money for one."
She looked at him angrily.
"Too much of a toff, eh? No, you can keep your money. You'll come along and have one with me, or I'll tell the bobby."
Douglas hesitated. He thought for a moment of De Quincey's Ann wandering out of the mists to cross the bridge with weary footsteps, and turned towards the girl with a courtesy which was almost tenderness.
"I will come with you if you like," he said, "only—"
The girl laughed hardly.
"All right. We'll go to the 'Cross.' The port wine's A1 there. You a Londoner?" she added, as they turned towards the Strand.
He shook his head.
"I have never been in London before to-day," he answered.
"More fool you to come, then," she said, shortly. "You don't look like a Cockney. I guess you're a gentleman, aren't you—run away from home or something?"
"I have come to live in London," he said, evasively. "I have always wanted to."
She shook her head.
"You'd better have stopped away. You are young, and you look good. You'll be neither long. Ugh! Here we are."
He stepped aside and let her pass in first through the swing doors. She led the way into what was called a private bar. They sat in cushioned chairs, and Douglas gave his order mechanically. A few feet away, with only a slim partition between them, was the general room full of men. The tinkle of glasses and hum of conversation grew louder and louder. It was a cold evening and a busy time. Douglas sipped his wine in silence. The girl opposite was humming a tune and beating time with her foot. She was watching him covertly but not unkindly.
"He'll be caught right enough. They even know 'is name. Serve 'im right, too, for it was an 'orrible murder . . . Douglas Guest."
Douglas started suddenly in his chair, a cry upon his lips, his eyes almost starting from his head. The girl's gloved hand was pressed against his mouth and the cry was stifled. Afterwards he remembered all his life the smell of patchouli or some cheap scent which assailed him at her near presence.
"Hush!" she whispered. "Don't be a silly fool."
He sat back in his chair, pale to the lips, trembling in every limb. The mirrors, the rows of glasses, the cushioned seats seemed flying round, there was a buzzing in his ears. Again she rose and poured wine down his throat.
"Sit still," she said, hoarsely. "You'll be all right in a moment."
The whole story, in disconnected patches, came floating in to them. He heard it, gripping all the while the sides of his chair, struggling with a deadly faintness. She too listened, watching him carefully all the time lest he should call out. In their corner they were scarcely to be seen even from the bar, and she had moved her seat a little so as to wholly shield him. It sounded bad enough. An old man over sixty, a farmer living in a northern village, had been found in his bedroom dead. By his side was a rifled cash box. There had been the best part of a hundred pounds there, all of which was gone. There were no signs of any one having broken in, but a young man named Douglas Guest, an inmate of the house and a distant relative, was missing. The thing was clear enough.
Another voice chimed in—its owner possessed a later edition. Only that night there had been a violent quarrel between the dead man and this Douglas Guest concerning money. Guest had been seen to enter the London train secretly at the nearest large station. His arrest was only a matter of a few hours. The police knew exactly where to put their hands upon him. A description followed. The girl and her companion exchanged stealthy glances.
The buzz of voices continued. Covering Douglas all she could, the girl called for more wine. The barmaid, seeing his pale face, nodded across towards him.
"Your friend don't look well," she said.
"Had too much yesterday," the girl answered, promptly. "He was fairly on 'the do,' and he ain't strong. He'll be all right when he gets a drop of this inside him."
The barmaid nodded and turned away. The girl made him drink and then roused him.
"Can you walk?" she said shortly. "We're best away from here."
She rose and paid for the last drinks. He followed her out on to the pavement and stood there, dazed, almost helpless. She looked at him critically.
"Come, pull yourself together," she said. "You've had a bit of a knock, I guess, but you don't want to advertise yourself here. Now listen. You'd best get some quiet lodging and lie low for a bit. I don't know anything and I don't want to know anything, but it's pretty clear you're keeping out of the way. I'm not going to take you down my way. For one thing, you ain't exactly that sort, I should say, and for another, the coppers are on to us like hot bricks when any one's wanted. Do you know London at all?"
"I was never here before this evening," he answered, in a low tone.
She looked at him critically.
"You're a bit of a green 'un," she said, bluntly. "You don't need to go giving yourself away like that, you know. Come along. I'm going to take you out to a quiet part that'll do for you as well as anywhere."
He walked by her side passively. Once he stopped and bought an evening paper, and under the next gas lamp he read a certain paragraph through carefully. She waited for him without remark. He folded the paper up after a minute or two and rejoined her. Side by side they threaded their way along Pall Mall, across the Park and southwards. A walk which, an hour or two ago, would have filled him with wonder and delight, he undertook now with purely mechanical movements and unseeing eyes. When they reached Chelsea she paused.
"Look here," she said, "are you feeling all right now?"
"I am quite myself again," he said, steadily. "I am much obliged to you for looking after me. You are very kind."
He drew some gold pieces hesitatingly from his pocket. She motioned him to replace them.
"I don't want any money, thanks," she said. "Now listen. That street there is all lodging-houses. Go and get a room and lie quiet for a bit. They're used to odd folk down here, and you look like a painter or a writer. Say you're an actor out of a job, or anything that comes handy."
"Thank you," he said. "I understand."
She turned away.
"Good night, then."
He heard something that sounded like a sob, and the quick rustling of skirts. He turned round. She was by the corner—out of sight already. At the bottom of the street was the glitter of a gas lamp reflected from the walk. He walked down and found himself on Chelsea Embankment. He made his way to the wall with the gold which she had refused still in his hand, and without hesitation threw the coins far out into the river. Then he looked around. There was not a soul in sight. He drew a handful of money from his pocket and flung it away—a little shower of gold flashing brightly in the gaslight for a moment. He went through his pockets carefully and found an odd half sovereign and some silver. Away they went. Then he moved back to a seat and closed his eyes.
A NIGHT IN HELL—AND NEXT DAY
There are few men, Douglas had once read, who have not spent one night of their lives in hell. When morning came he knew that he at least was amongst the majority. Sleep had never once touched his eyelids—his most blessed respite had been a few moments of deadly stupor, when the red fires had ceased to play before his eyes, and the old man's upturned face had faded away into the chill mists. Yet when at last he rose he asked himself, with a sudden passionate eagerness, whether after all it might not have been a terrible dream. He gazed around eagerly looking for a latticed window with dimity curtains, a blue papered wall hung with texts, and a low beamed ceiling. Alas! Before him was a white-shrouded river, around him a wilderness of houses, and a long row of faintly-burning lights stretched from where he sat all along the curving embankment. He was wearing unfamiliar clothes, and a doubled-up newspaper was in his pockets. It was all true then, the flight across the moor, the strange ride to town, the wild exhilaration of spirits, and the dull, crushing blow. The girl with the roses—ah, she had been with him—had brought him here. He remembered the look in her eyes when she had refused his money. At least he had ridded himself of that. He tried to stretch himself. He was stiff and sore all over. His head was throbbing like a steam engine, and he sank back upon the seat in the throes of a cold, ghastly sickness. He remembered then that he had not touched food for hours. He remembered too that he had not a penny in the world.
For an hour or more he lay there partially unconscious. Physically he was almost unable to move—his brain, however, was gradually clearing. After all, perhaps the boldest course was the safest. He would go and say, "Here am I, Douglas Guest—what do you want with me? It is true that I took money from the old man, but it was my own. As to his death, what do I know of that? Who heard me threaten him? Who saw me strike him? There is no one."
He staggered up to his feet. The morning had come now, and people had begun to stir. A few market waggons went rumbling by. There were milk-carts in the streets, and sleepy-looking servants in print dresses were showing their heads above the area steps. Douglas moved on with unsteady footsteps. He passed a policeman who looked at him curiously, and of whom he felt more than half inclined to ask the way to the nearest police-station, then walked up into the square, where before him hung a red lamp from a tall, red brick house with barred windows. He peered in at the window. A fat sergeant was sitting at the table yawning, the walls were hung with police bills, the room itself was the quintessence of discomfort. The place repelled him strongly. He did not like the look of the sergeant nor his possible quarters. After all, why need he hurry? The day was young, and it was very unlikely that he would be recognised. He strolled away with his hands in his pockets, lighter-hearted with every step which took him away from those barred windows.
Across the square, a fat little man was making strenuous efforts to remove the shutter from in front of his shop. He looked round as Douglas appeared, wiping the perspiration from his forehead, and regarded him doubtfully.
"Will yer lend us a hand, guvnor?" he inquired.
Douglas was willing enough, and between them the job was soon finished. The little man, who was a confectioner, explained that he had an assistant who came from a distance, and whose laziness was most phenomenal. After this morning, however, his services would be dispensed with. For once he had gone a little too far. Eight o'clock and no sign of him. It was monstrous! The little man produced a few coppers and glanced towards Douglas with some hesitation.
Douglas laughed softly.
"I don't want any money, thanks," he said, "but if I could beg a piece of bread or cake, I'm really hungry."
The little man nodded and hastened into the shop. Douglas followed him.
"If you'd care for a cup of milk," he remarked, taking a tin from the door handle, "we can manage it. No tea yet, I'm afraid."
"I should enjoy the milk very much if you can spare it."
He made a curious meal. A little hysterical, but stronger at every mouthful. The little man watched him covertly.
"Like a wash?" he inquired.
"Rather," Douglas answered. After all, it was a good start for the day.
He walked out of the shop a quarter of an hour later a new man, spruce and clean, smoking a cigarette, and with the terrors of the night far behind him. The cold water had been like a sweet, keen tonic to him. The cobwebs had gone from his brain. Memory had returned. What a fool he had been. There was no such person as Douglas Guest. Douglas Guest was dead. What need for him to fear?
The greatest desire he had now was for a morning newspaper, but though he tried every pocket several times over he was absolutely penniless. Then he thought of the Free Libraries—a sudden and delightful inspiration. A policeman directed him. He entered a handsome building, and being early had his choice of the great dailies, neatly cut and arranged upon rollers for him. One by one he read them through with feverish interest, and when he set them down he laughed softly to himself. There was not one of them which did not chronicle the death of Douglas Guest on the Midland Express, and refer to him as the person wanted for the Feldwick murder. So he was safe, after all. The press had made it clearer than ever. Douglas Guest was dead. Henceforth he need have no fear.
He moved to the tables where the reviews and magazines were, and spent a pleasant hour or two amongst them. He planned out a new story, saw his way to a satirical article upon a popular novel, thought of an epigram, and walked out into the street a few minutes before one with something of the old exhilaration of spirits dancing through his veins. His condition of absolute poverty had not yet lost the flavour of novelty. He even laughed as he realised that again he was hungry and must rely upon chance for a meal. This time there was no fat confectioner to play the good Samaritan. But by chance he passed a pawnbroker's shop, and with a little cry of triumph he dragged a fat, yellow-faced silver watch from his pocket and stepped blithely inside. He found it valued at much less than he had expected, but he attempted no bargaining. He walked out again into the street, a man of means. There were silver coins in his pocket—enough to last him for a couple of days at least. It was unexpected fortune.
He bought some tobacco and cigarette papers and rolled himself a cigarette. Then he stepped out in the direction of the Strand, where he imagined the restaurants mostly lay. He passed St. James's Palace, up St. James's Street and into Piccadilly. For a while he forgot his hunger. There was so much that was marvellous, so much to admire. Burlington House was pointed out by a friendly policeman; he passed into the courtyard where the pigeons were feeding, and looked around him with admiration which was tempered almost with awe. On his way out he again addressed the policeman.
"I want to have some lunch somewhere," he said. "I can only spend about two shillings, and I want the best I can get for the money. I wonder whether you could direct me."
The policeman smiled.
"There's only one place for you, sir," he said, "and it's lucky as I can direct you there. You go to Spargetti's in Old Compton Street, off Soho Square. I've heard that there's no West-End place to touch it—and they do you the whole lot for two bob, including a quarter flask of wine. I've a brother-in-law as keeps the books there, and I have it from him, sir, that there ain't such value for money in the whole country. And there's this about it, sir," he added confidentially, "you can eat what's set before you. It ain't like some of these nasty, low, foreign eating-'ouses where you daren't touch rabbit, and the soup don't seem canny. There's plenty like that, but not Spargetti's. You're all right there, sir."
Douglas went off, fortified with many directions, and laughing heartily. He found Spargetti's, and seated himself at a tiny table in a long low room, blue already with cigarette smoke. They brought him such a luncheon as he had never eaten before. Grated macaroni in his soup, watercress and oil with his chicken, a curious salad and a wonderful cheese. Around him was the constant hum of gay conversation. Every one save himself seemed to have friends here, and many of them. It was indeed a very ordinary place, a cosmopolitan eating-house, good of its sort, and with an excellent connection of lighthearted but impecunious foreigners, who made up with the lightness of their spirits for the emptiness of their purses. To Douglas, whose whole upbringing and subsequent life had been amongst the dreariest of surroundings, there was something about it all peculiarly fascinating. The air of pleasant abandonment, the subtle aroma of gaiety allied with irresponsibility, the strange food and wine, well cooked and stimulating, delighted him. His sole desire now was for a companion. If only those men—artists, he was sure they were—would draw him into their conversation. He had plenty to say. He was ready to be as merry as any of them. A faint sense of loneliness depressed him for a moment as he looked from one to another of the long tables. All his life he had been as one removed from his fellows. He was weary of it. Surely it must be nearly at an end now. Some of the children of the great mother city would hold out their hands to him. It was not alms he needed. It was a friend.
Douglas looked up quickly. A newcomer had taken the vacant place at his table.
THE AUTHOR OF "NO MAN'S LAND"
Douglas returned his greeting cordially. His vis-a-vis drew the menu towards him and studied it with interest. Setting it down he screwed a single eyeglass into his eye and beamed over at Douglas.
"Is the daily grind O. K.?" he inquired suavely.
Douglas was disconcerted at being unable to answer a question so pleasantly asked.
"I—beg your pardon," he said, doubtfully. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
The newcomer waved his hand to some acquaintances and smiled cheerfully.
"I see you're a stranger here," he remarked. "There's a table-d'hote luncheon for the modest sum of eighteenpence, which is the cheapest way to feed, if it's decent. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I thought perhaps you might have sampled it."
"I believe I have," Douglas answered. "I told the waiter to bring me the ordinary lunch, and I thought it was very good indeed."
"Then I will risk it. Henri. Come here, you scamp."
He gave a few orders to the waiter, who treated him with much respect. Then he turned again to Douglas.
"You have nearly finished," he said. "Please don't hurry. I hate to eat alone. It is a whim of mine. If I eat alone I read, and if I read I get dyspepsia. Try the oat biscuits and the Camembert."
Douglas did as the newcomer had suggested.
"I am in no hurry," he said. "I have nothing to do, nor anywhere to go."
"You speak as though that were unusual," Douglas laughed, "but I was just thinking that every one here seems to be in the same state. Some one once told me that London was a city of sadness. Who could watch the people here and say so?"
The newcomer screwed in his eyeglass and looked deliberately round the room.
"Well," he said, "this is a resort of the poor, and the poor are seldom sad. It is the unfortunate West-Enders who carry the burdens of wealth and the obligation of position, who have earned for us the reproach of dulness. Here we are on the threshold of Bohemia. Long life and health to it."
He drank a glass of Chianti with the air of a connoisseur tasting some rare vintage.
Douglas laughed softly.
"If the people here are poor," he said, "what about me? I pawned my watch because I had had nothing to eat since yesterday."
His new friend sighed and stuck his fork into an olive.
"What affluence," he sighed, meditatively. "I have not possessed a watch for a year, and I've only ninepence in my pocket. They give me tick here. Foolish Spargetti. Long may their confidence last!"
A companion in impecuniosity. Douglas looked at his neat clothes and the flower in his buttonhole, and wondered.
"But you have the means of making money if you care to."
"Have I?" The eyeglass was carefully removed, the small wizened face assumed a lugubrious aspect. "My friend," he said, "in a measure it is true—but such a small measure. A cold-blooded and unappreciative editor apprises my services at the miserable sum of three pounds a week. I have heard of people who have lived upon that sum, but I must confess that I never met one."
"You are a writer, then?" Douglas exclaimed, eagerly.
"I am a sort of hack upon the staff of the Ibex. They set me down in a corner of the office and throw me scraps of work, as you would bones to a dog. It is not dignified, but one must eat and drink—not to mention smoking. Permit me, by-the-bye, to offer you a cigarette, and to recommend the coffee. I taught Spargetti how to make it myself."
Douglas was listening with flushed cheeks. The Ibex! What a coincidence!
"You are really on the staff of the Ibex?" he exclaimed.
The other nodded.
"I hold exactly the position," he said, "that I have described to you. My own impression is, that without me the Ibex would not exist for a month. That is where the editor and I differ, unfortunately."
"It seems so odd," Douglas said. "Some time ago I sent a story to the Ibex, and it was accepted. I have been looking for it to appear every week."
The shrewd little eyes twinkled into his.
"What was the title?"
"'No Man's Land.' Douglas Jesson was the name."
The newcomer filled Douglas's glass with Chianti from his own modest flask.
"Waiter," he said, "bring more wine. My friend, Douglas Jesson, we must drink together. I remember your story, for I put the blue chalk on it myself and took it up to Drexley. It is a meeting this, and we must celebrate. Your story will probably be used next week."
Douglas's eyes were bright and his cheeks were flushed. The flavour of living was sweet upon his palate. Here he was, who, only twelve hours ago, had gone skulking in the shadows looking out upon life with terrified eyes, tempted even to self-destruction, suddenly in touch once more with the things that were dear to him, realising for the first time some of the dreams which had filled his brain in those long, sleepless nights upon the hill-top. He was a wanderer in Bohemia, welcomed by an older spirit. Surely fortune had commenced at last to smile upon him.
"You are on a visit here?" his new friend asked, "or have you come to London for good?"
"For good, I trust," Douglas answered, smiling, "for I have burned my boats behind me."
"My name is Rice, yours I know already," the other said. "By-the-bye, I noticed that the postmark of your parcel was Feldwick in the Hills, somewhere in Cumberland, I think. Have you seen the papers during the last few days?"
Douglas's left hand gripped the table, and the flush of colour, which the wine and excitement had brought into his cheeks, faded slowly away. The pleasant hum of voices, the keen joy of living, which, a moment before, had sent his blood flowing to a new music, left him. Nevertheless he controlled himself and answered steadily.
"I have had nothing else to do during the last few days but read the papers."
"You know about the murder, then?"
Mr. Rice was interested. He passed his cigarette case across the table and called for Kummel.
"I wonder," he said, "did you know the man Guest—Douglas Guest?"
Douglas shook his head.
"Very slightly," he said. "I lived some distance away, and they were not sociable people."
"Murders as a rule," Rice continued, leaning back in his chair, "do not interest me. This one did. Why? I don't know. I hate to have reasons for everything. But to me there were many interesting points about this one. First, now—"
He rattled on until his voice seemed like a far distant echo to Douglas, who sat with white face and averted eyes, struggling hard for composure. From the murder he passed on to the tragedy on the railway train.
"You know," he said, "I cannot help thinking that the police were a little hasty in assuming that the man was Douglas Guest."
"An envelope was found upon him and a handkerchief with his initials," Douglas said, looking up, "besides the card. He was known too to have taken that train. Surely that was evidence enough?"
"It seems so," Rice answered, "and yet—But never mind. I see that I am boring you. We will talk of something else, or rather I must talk of nothing else, for my time is up," he added, glancing at the clock. "When are you going to look up Drexley?"
"When is the best time to catch him?" Douglas asked.
"Now, as easily as any," Rice answered. "Come along with me, and I will show you the way and arrange that he sees you."
Douglas stood up and ground his heel into the floor. Perish those hateful fears—that fainting sense of terror! Douglas Guest was dead. For Douglas Jesson there was a future never more bright than now.
"Come," he said. "You must drink with me once. Waiter, two more liqueurs."
"Success," Rice cried, lifting his glass, "to your interview with Drexley! He's not a bad chap, although he has his humours."
Douglas drained his glass to the dregs—but he drank to a different toast. The two men left the place together.
THE EDITOR OF THE IBEX RECEIVES A STRANGE LETTER
The editor of the Ibex sat at a long table in his sanctum paying some perfunctory attentions to a huge pile of letters which had come in by the afternoon mail. Most of them he threw on one side for his "sub," a few he opened himself and tossed into a basket for further attention later on. It was a task which he never entered upon with much enthusiasm, for he was a man who hated detail. His room itself disclosed the man. It was a triumph of disorder. Books and magazines were scattered all over the floor. The proof sketch of a wonderful poster took up one side of the wall, leaning against the others were sketches, pictures, golf clubs, and huge piles of books of reference. His table was a bewilderment, his mantelpiece a nightmare. Only before him, in a handsome frame of dark wood, was the photograph of a woman round which a little space had been cleared. There was never so much chaos but that the picture was turned where the light fell best upon it; the dirt might lie thick upon every inch in the room, but every morning a silk handkerchief carefully removed from the glass-mounting every disfiguring speck. Yet the man himself seemed to have little enough sentiment about him. His shoulders were broad and his head massive. A short-cut beard concealed his chin, but his mouth was of iron and his eyes were hard and keen. He was of no more than the average stature by reason of his breadth and girth; he seemed even to fall short of it, which was not however the case. A man not easily led or controlled, a man of passions and prejudices, emphatically not a man to be trifled with or ignored.
In the midst of the pile of letters he came upon one at the sight of which his indifference vanished as though by magic. It was a heavy, square envelope, a coronet upon the flap, addressed to David Drexley, Esq., in a handwriting distinctly feminine. He singled it out from the rest, held it for a moment between his thumb and broad forefinger, and then turned his chair round, abandoning the rest of his correspondence as a matter of infinitesimal consequence. A letter from her was by no means an everyday affair, for she was a woman of caprices, as who should know better than he? There were weeks during which it was her pleasure to hold herself aloof from him—and others—when the servants who denied her shook their heads to all questions, and letters met with no response. What should he find inside, he wondered? An invitation, or a reproof. He had tried so hard to see her lately. He was in no hurry to open it. He had grown to expect very little from her. While it was unopened there was at least the pleasure of expectancy. He traced the letters over. There was the same curl of the S, the same finely formed capitals, the same deliberate and firm dash after the address. Then a thought came to him. It was Wednesday, the night on which she often saw her friends. Surely this was a summons. He might see her within a few hours. He tore open the envelope and read:—
"No. 20, GROSVENOR ST.,
"My FRIEND,—SO often I have bidden you find work for the young people in whom I have interested myself, that my present charge upon your good-nature will doubtless seem strange to you. Yet I am as much in earnest now as then, and for the favour of granting what I now ask I shall be equally grateful. There is a young man named Jesson who has sent you a story, and who hopes to secure more work from you. It is not my wish that he should have it at present, and with regard to the work which you have already accepted, please let its production be delayed as long as possible, and payment for it made on the smallest possible scale. You will wonder at this, I know. Never mind. Do as I ask and I will explain later.
"That reminds me that I have seen nothing of you lately. This evening I shall be at home from ten to eleven. If your engagements permit of your coming to see me, I may perhaps be able to take you into my confidence. If you should come, bring with you the manuscript of this boy's story that I may judge for myself if the Ibex will be the loser. Yours most truly,
"EMILY DE REUSS."
Drexley glanced through the letter rapidly, read it again more carefully, and then turned with a perplexed face to a little telephone which stood upon his table. He summoned his manager, an untidy-looking person with crumpled hair and inkstained fingers which he seemed perpetually attempting to conceal.
"Mr. Warmington, is that Jesson story set up?" the editor inquired.
"Yes, sir. I understand that those were your instructions."
"Well, I shall want it kept back for a bit," he said. "You can take another story of about the same length from the accepted chest."
The manager stared.
"We've nothing else as good," he remarked. "You said yourself that Jesson's story was the best bit of work we'd had in for a long time."
Drexley frowned and turned back to his letters.
"Never mind that," he said. "I've good reasons for what I'm telling you to do. Jesson's story is not to appear until I give the word."
The manager withdrew without a word. Drexley went on with his correspondence. In a few minutes there was another knock at his door. He looked up annoyed. Some one else, no doubt, to protest against the exclusion of Jesson's story. Rice was standing upon the threshold, and behind him a younger man, tall, with clustering hair and brilliant eyes, cheeks on which the tan still lingered, ill-clad but personable.
"I've brought Mr. Jesson in to see you, sir," Rice said, breezily. "I found him at Spargetti's, struck up an acquaintance and brought him along. I thought you'd like to have a talk with him about some more work."
Drexley for a moment was as speechless as Douglas was nervous. Rice, blandly unconscious of anything unusual, wheeled up a chair for the latter and sauntered towards the door.
"I'd like to have a word with you before you go, Jesson," he said. "Will you look in at my room?"
Douglas murmured an inarticulate assent, and Rice departed. Then he looked up at the man who so far had only bidden him a mechanical good morning, and wondered a little at the heavy frown upon his face. Perhaps his introduction had been a little unceremonious, but surely he could not be blamed for that.
Drexley pulled himself together. The thing was awkward, but it must be faced.
"You have come to see us about your story, I suppose, Mr. Jesson?" he began. "A very fair story indeed for a beginner, as I suppose you are. I am hoping that some day we may be able to make use of it for the Ibex."
Douglas looked up quickly.
"I understood Mr. Rice that you were using it in the next issue of the magazine," he said.
"The next issue!" Drexley shook his head.
"I am afraid that is quite out of the question," he said. "You see our arrangements are all made a very long time ahead, and we have short stories enough on hand now to last us nearly two years. Of course if you care to leave yours with us, I think I can promise you that it shall appear some time, but exactly when, I should not care to say. It would be quite impossible to fix a date."
Douglas was bewildered—speechless. He did his best, however, to remain coherent.
"Mr. Rice certainly told me," he said, "that it was in type and would appear at once. He seemed to think, too, that if I saw you you might give me some more work. I am living in London now, and I hoped that it might be possible for me to make some money by my pen."
Drexley was silent for several moments. For the first time in his life he glanced across at the photograph which stood upon his table with something like impatience.
"I am afraid that I cannot offer you much encouragement," he said. "If ever a market in the world was overcrowded, the literary market of to-day is in that state. If you like to leave your story it shall appear some time or other—I cannot promise when—and when we are able to use it we will pay you according to our usual standard. More I cannot say at present."
Douglas rose up with a sense of sick disappointment at his heart, but with a firm determination also to carry himself like a man.
"I am much obliged to you," he said. "I will think the matter over and let you know."
Drexley watched the struggle. He, too, had been young, and he hated himself.
"You had better leave us your address," he said. "We will let you know, then, if we see a chance of using more of your work."
"When I have an address," he said, "I will write to you. At present I have not made my arrangements in London."
Drexley let him go, despising himself, with a vague feeling of irritation, too, against the beautiful face which smiled at him from his table. Douglas's one idea was to get out of the place. He had no wish to see Rice or any one. But on the landing he came face to face with the latter, who had not as yet gone into his room.
"Hullo," he exclaimed. "You're soon off. Have you finished with 'the chief' already?"
Douglas nodded with tightening lips.
"He hadn't much to say to me," he answered. "Good afternoon."
Rice let his hand fall upon the other's shoulder.
"I don't understand," he said. "Here, come into my room for a minute."
Douglas yielded, and Rice listened to the description of his interview, his little wizened face puckered up with astonishment. When he had finished he thrust a box of cigarettes towards his visitor and rose from his chair.
"Here," he said, "just wait here a moment. I must have a word with the chief."
He turned out. He was gone for several minutes. When he returned his face was grave and puzzled.
"Jesson," he said, "I'll be frank with you. Either the chief's gone off his nut, or you managed to offend him somehow. I can't understand it a bit, I'll confess. I'm fairly staggered."
"I hadn't a chance to offend him," Douglas said. "He simply sat on me."
Rice walked up and down the room.
"I wish you'd leave me your address," he said. "I'd like to look into this a bit."
"I can only tell you" he said, "what I told Mr. Drexley. At present I haven't one. Good afternoon."
Rice walked with him to the door.
"Jesson," he said, "I want you to promise me something."
"You're a bit down on your luck. If things go badly you'll give me a look up. I can always raise a bit, and I think your word's all right. I tell you this, on my honour. Only yesterday 'the chief' asked for the proof of your story himself. It was down to appear without fail this next week. We've very few manuscripts in hand—never had fewer—and they've been so short of good fiction. What's gone wrong I don't know, but you leave it to me and I'll find out. You'll let me hear from you, eh?"
Douglas nodded drearily.
"Thanks," he said. "I won't forget."
He walked away briskly enough, but without any definite idea as to his destination. Rice returned to his room and smoked a whole cigarette before he touched his work.
A WOMAN OF WHIMS
Drexley had found his way to her side at last. As usual her rooms were full, and to-night of people amongst whom he felt himself to some extent an alien. For Drexley was not of the fashionable world—not even of the fashionable literary world. At heart he was a Bohemian of the old type. He loved to spend his days at work, and his evenings at a certain well-known club, where evening dress was abhorred, and a man might sit, if he would, in his shirt sleeves. Illimitable though her tact, even Emily de Reuss, the Queen of London hostesses, never succeeded in making him feel altogether at home in her magnificent rooms. To-night he felt more at sea even than usual. Generally she had bidden him come to her when she entertained the great cosmopolitan world of art-toilers. To-night she was at home to another world—the strictly exclusive world of rank and fashion. Drexley wandering about, seeing never a face he knew, felt ill at ease, conscious of his own deficiency in dress and deportment, in a world where form was the one material thing, and a studhole shirt or an ill-cut waistcoat were easy means of acquiring notoriety. He wandered from room to room, finding nowhere any one to speak to, conscious of a good deal of indifferent scrutiny, hating himself for coming, hating, too, the bondage which had made him glad to come. Then suddenly he came face to face with his hostess, and with a few graceful words of apology she had left her escort and taken his arm.
"I am afraid you are being bored," she said, quietly. "I am sorry. I only remembered that people were coming to-night. Janette was out, and I had quite forgotten who had had cards. I wanted to see you, too."
"I am a little out of place here," he answered. "That is all. Now that I have seen you, you can explain your note, and I can go away."
She seemed in no hurry.
"I know," she said, "that you are dying for your smoky little club, your Scotch whiskey and your pipe. Never mind, it is well for you sometimes to be disciplined."
"At the present moment," he said, "I long for nothing beyond what I have."
She turned to look at him with an amused smile. The lights flashed on the diamonds around her throat, and the glittering spangles upon her black dress. Truly a wonderfully beautiful woman—a divine figure, and a dress, which scarcely a woman who had looked at it had not envied.
"You are getting wonderfully apt, my grim friend," she said, "at those speeches which once you affected to despise."
"It was never the speeches I despised," he answered bluntly, "it was the insincerity."
"And you, I suppose, are the only sincere man who makes them. My friend, that little speech errs on the other side, does it not?"
He frowned impatiently.
"You have many guests," he said, "who will be looking for you. Let me know why you made me treat that young man so badly, and then go away.
"Have you treated him badly then?" she asked.
"Very. I recalled my acceptance of his story, and declined to discuss future work with him. I have deprived the Ibex of a contributor who might possibly have become a very valuable one, and I have gone back upon my word. I want to know why."